A Spirit of Gentleness

Read a well-known verse this morning, but honestly, with unexpected consequences. Started to breeze through a familiar “command to obey,” but encountered a living and active sword along the way. One word. That’s all it was, one word. And it struck deep. In a micro-second, an encounter of the divine kind, and the Spirit reveals the heart. Just one word I’m chewing on. Just one word causing me to pause, reflect, and assess.

That word? Gentleness.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

(Galatians 6:1 ESV)

One word, but the second time I’ve encountered it this morning in my readings. The other time it’s in a song sung by David praising the LORD for faithfully delivering David from his enemies.

You have given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your gentleness made me great.

(2Samuel 22:36 ESV)

I took note of verse 36 as I read in 2 Samuel and thought talking of God’s gentleness here seemed kind of out of place. But I really think the Spirit used the 2 Samuel reading to aim the arrow, and then let it find its target when I read Galatians 6:1. Bullseye!

God’s gentleness, David sings, is what made the king great. The gentleness of God delivered David. God’s humility rescued him from his strong enemy. The meekness of God drew David out of many waters. But God’s gentleness is juxtaposed with His awesome might and power. Smoke going “up from His nostrils and devouring fire from His mouth”, as His anger towards those who opposed His anointed caused the earth to reel and rock and the foundations of the heavens to tremble (22:8-9). Evidently, meekness shouldn’t be confused with weakness.

But God’s gentleness, His humility, is evidenced in His willingness to “bow the heavens” and “come down” (22:10). Oh, to be sure, to come down in might and power, bringing great deliverance, but to “come down” — in a sense to humble Himself — nevertheless. The God enthroned in heaven could have sent any from His mighty host to attend to matters on earth, but for David, God Himself would come down and bring salvation. His gentleness compelling Him to draw alongside and make much of His servant, David.

And so, brothers and sisters, if anyone is battling their own enemies, you who are spiritual should “come down” too. And, in your power, serve to restore him, but to do so in a spirit of gentleness, as well. Aware of your own frailty and propensity towards temptation, engaging with a brother or a sister with mildness and meekness, that they too would be delivered from their oppressor.

And I’m there. As God leads, willing to engage. Willing to draw alongside to help restore another. But challenged, as I examine my own heart. Confessing that not always have I done so “in a spirit of gentleness.” Lacking humility. Bypassing meekness. Too prone to take a “Suck it up, buttercup!” approach.

A spirit of gentleness. Evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23). Needing, I think, to be more evidenced in and through me.

More like the God who came down to rescue David. More like the Son of God who, with humility and meekness, Himself came down to deliver me.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Freed for Freedom

So much of the Christian life is dictated by a holy tension. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), yet we are to know the fear of the Lord (2Cor. 1:11). We are saved by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9), and yet we are to make every effort to add to our faith (2Pet. 1:5). God is sovereign (1Tim. 6:15), yet we are to work out our salvation (Php. 2:12). We are to judge no one (Matt. 7:1), yet we are to be discerning enough that we’re willing to admonish one another (1Thess 5:14). You get the idea. I’m sure you can add to the list.

So, it’s kind of nice when you come upon something that looks pretty clear cut. Simple. Direct.

So, brothers [and sisters], we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. . . . For you were called to freedom, brothers [and sisters]. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

(Galatians 4:31-5:1, 5:13 ESV)

Pretty straight forward, I’m thinking. Why were we saved? Why our redemption from the bondage of sin? Why our rescue from fear of death? For freedom, that’s why Christ has set us free. We were called to freedom. Kind of the whole point of Galatians.

What does it mean to be free? It means not shackling ourselves again with any form of works-based righteousness. Having received salvation as a gift, we no longer have to try and merit our salvation through our works. Having been adopted as His children, we no longer have to try and win our way into His family. Having been made a joint-heir with Christ, we longer have to work our way into heaven. Having been loved by Christ, and loved to the end, we no longer have to look for love in all the wrong places.

And to have been set free for freedom means we’re no longer enslaved to serve the flesh. That, through the power of the Spirit in us (Gal. 5:16), we’re no longer bound by our selfish desires. Thus we’re free to love God and, free to love others. Esteeming others above ourselves, even as we look out not only to our own interests, but their’s as well (Php. 2:3-4).

We were called to freedom. Therefore let us stand firm in freedom.

Simple. Direct. Not much ambiguity in that.

What? Having been set free from sin, I’m now a slave of righteousness, a slave of God (Rom. 6:18,22)? Having been set free for freedom I’m now a bondservant of Christ (1Cor. 7:2)? Hmm . . . another holy tension.

Well, for right now, I’m just going to chew on these couple of verses. And savor the reality that I have been freed for freedom.

And that, by His grace. And that, only for His glory.

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Look Way Up!

Talking to my daughter last night, and I had to laugh when I asked her how her day was and she said she’d put another check mark on her wall to help her keep track that another day had passed. I could relate. When every day kind of feels like yesterday with no real expectation that tomorrow’s gonna be much different, the days just kind of all flow together.

For most of us, I’m guessing, our world’s have become pretty small and predictable. I find myself talking increasingly about managing “my bubble” — as in, who’s in my face-to-face (that’s not a good social distancing term) circle of contacts. And I think it might be easy, when you’re housebound, to become somewhat earthbound, as well. So used to looking at the walls in my house that I forget to look up . . . to look waaaaay up! But something I read this morning is helping with that.

But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

(Galatians 4:26 ESV)

Context? Paul’s telling a group of Galatians who “desire to be under the law” (4:21) a story. Actually, he’s blowing up a story that law-abiding Jews had known for centuries. The story of Hagar and Sarah — two woman who bore sons to Abraham. The first, a slave in the house who conceived by the will of man, and an act of the flesh, in an attempt to do the work of God. The second, a betrothed bride with a barren womb, who bore a son when she shouldn’t have only because God had intervened in order to fulfill His promise. And what blows the story up is that while every law-abiding Jew thought they were children of Sarah, Paul says that to depend on the law is actually exhibiting they were children of Hagar. Ouch!

Furthermore, he links Hagar, the slave woman, with Mount Sinai, the place where the law was given. Ouch, again! And then, he goes over the top . . .

. . . she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.

(Galatians 4:25b ESV)

To hope in keeping the law as one’s means of being declared righteous before God is bondage. To rely on the flesh to participate in the divine, is onerous drudgery that gets you nowhere. To be under “the present Jerusalem”, thinking it can lead to a glorious future, is to be a child of a slave woman.

Instead, for those of us “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13), Paul says our mother is Jerusalem above. So, look up, dear saint. Look waaaaay up!

Our nationality isn’t really found on this orb, “but our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Php. 3:20).

Our pilgrimage isn’t focused on any place or holy hill on this earth, instead, we “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22).

The heavenly Jerusalem. She’s our mother. The holy city that will one day descend from heaven “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2, 10). Having the glory of God as its light, and the presence of the Almighty and the Lamb as its temple (21:22-23).

What a reminder that, though our days may be somewhat predictable and, though looking at our four walls has gotten way beyond monotonous, we are not earthbound at all. We are, in fact, heaven bound!

Children of promise. Children born again into freedom. Children birthed by our mother, the Jerusalem above.

So look up. Look waaaaay up!

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Christ Formed in You

I don’t know that I am super goal oriented. But on the continuum from “Goal Driven” to “WhatEver”, I’m probably lean more G.D. than W.E. I tend to believe that if you aim for nothing that’s exactly what you’ll hit.

But, I also like to think I’m a realist. I’m all about thinking in terms of “attainable” goals. I’m not really a visionary who thinks up goals no one else has thought up. In fact, often I’ll initially set a bar low, aim for something I’m pretty sure I can hit, so that I’m not quickly discouraged but, instead, realize a quick win. And with that encouragement, push towards a greater end goal.

So, what’s got me thinking about goal setting and being goal driven this morning? The Bible. Paul in particular.

Any number of goals Paul could have set for himself. Certainly to preach the gospel to the Gentiles was a big, over-arching goal — a sporty goal in and of itself. But he could have also set a geographic goal, charting out the territory that, Lord willing, he wanted to cover. Could have set a number-of-journeys goal — like maybe three. He could have set church maturity goals, compelling him to return to the new churches that had formed in his gospel-preaching wake and making sure there was qualified, mature leadership in place to shepherd each group of believers. (And, I’m pretty sure he set a goal simply to survive preaching the gospel to the Gentiles until the Lord was ready to call him home.)

You get the idea. A lot of worthy goals Paul could have articulated. A lot of ambitious (for the right reason) and compelling goals that would have driven him to continue doing what he was doing.

But this morning it’s a goal Paul conveys to the Galatians that has me thinking. One audacious objective that I’m chewing on.

. . . my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

(Galatians 4:19-20 ESV)

More than the number of trips to be made, the number of places to be preached, the number of churches to be established, or the number elders to be identified, Paul was driven to see each believer who came to faith under his gospel preaching have Christ formed in them. Talk about your “stretch goal.”

The anguish of childbirth!?! Never had a baby, but been present for five births. No thanks. Is that really how important this goal was to Paul? To endure an inner anguish of increasingly greater soul-cramping contractions, as he longed for those who said they believed in Christ to actually live lives that reflected Christ? Evidently.

Christ formed in you. Morphoo in the Greek. Looks like a root for metamorphosis to me. A changing from the inside out. A re-fashioning into a different form. A transforming from something immature to the fullness for which it was born. Paul wanted to see born again babes in Christ eventually take on the fullness and likeness of Christ. And that, for the glory of Christ. So, apparently being somewhat of a goal driven type of guy, he would labor, even labor in childbirth, to do his part, that the Spirit might work His part, towards that end.

Christ formed in you. Big ask. But just how our God rolls. One of His goals, as well.

Maybe it should be one of my goals, too.

By His grace. For His glory.

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By the Spirit! Final Answer.

When I was a kid the expression was, “Now that’s the $64,000 question!” Nowadays, it’s more commonly, “Now, that’s the Million Dollar question!” Both are sourced in popular game shows. The $64,000 question came from a game show that ran in the ’50’s, and the million dollar question comes from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”, around since the ’90’s.

But whichever phrase you use, the intent is the same. Either to highlight something that is crucial, a question whose answer is critical to determining different outcomes or, to ask it rhetorically, not really expecting an answer, as in, “Who knows? That’s the million dollar question!”

This morning, I find myself hovering over a million dollar question. The answer to which is critical for our salvation. And the answer to which, far from being unknowable, is clearly known.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

(Galatians 3:2-3 ESV)

Okay . . . so maybe there’s three questions there. But the million dollar question is the last question. It’s the crucial question that will set the course for the fruitfulness of our sanctification. It’s the answerable question. We don’t even have to pick from one of four possible answers. It’s a Yes or No question. And the answer is: No!

Having begun by the Spirit, having been born again through the regenerating work of the Third Person of the Triune God, I am now not counting on my own efforts, my own abilities, my own goodness to complete the work of salvation begun in me through faith. The Spirit who made me a new creation in Christ (2Cor. 5:17) is the Spirit who will take that new creation and make it increasingly like Christ (check out Romans 8, in particular verses 2, 4, 9, 11, 14, 16, 26, 29).

Why would I try and finish in the flesh what was begun as an intervention of the Spirit? Why count on works to perfect that which is founded on faith? Now those are $64,000 dollar questions. Beats me.

But I do. So easy to fall back into relying on my own strength, and in my own wisdom. To thinking that it comes down to my goodness apart from His greatness. To taking my cues from others rather than from the Word. To finding my identity in things and roles other than who I really am, a child of God, and what I’m ultimately called to be, a follower of Christ.

How I need to ask, and answer, this million dollar question: Having been born by the Spirit, how will I now grow in Christ?

By the Spirit! Final answer.

And by His grace. And only for His glory.

(Okay . . . so maybe that’s three answers)

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The Company of the Upright

“Don’t it always seem to go . . . that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” Those words from Joni Mitchell’s 70’s song comes to mind as I hover over the opening verse of Psalm 111. The ancient songwriter’s song has nothing to do with paving paradise, putting trees in a tree museum, or spraying apples with DDT to keep them blemish free. But it does extol the God of paradise. It does declare the mighty works of the One who created the trees. And, it reminds the reader of a unique privilege owned by the people of God, the apple of His eye (Deut. 32:9-10, Zech. 2:8). But don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone?

Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart . . .

(Psalm 111:1a ESV)

Praise. Give thanks. Both things that anyone can do. All it requires is to focus on the right subject, engaging both the mind and the heart, to produce fruit from the lips (Heb. 13:5).

And only I can offer praise to the LORD. Only I can give thanks to my God. No one can do that for me. No once can force true worship from another. And no one can tender the thanksgiving due God on behalf of another. At it’s core, praise and thanksgiving are the willful, mindful, heartfelt acts of the individual.

But there’s a lot in Scripture that indicates that while the worship of God is sourced in the heart of the individual, it is best expressed in the company of others.

Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

(Psalm 111:1 ESV)

I miss congregational worship. I miss engaging in praise and thanksgiving with the company of those made upright through the saving work of Jesus. You don’t what you’ve got til it’s gone.

We were made to worship and, I think, called to worship together. I know that’s what it’ll be like when faith gives way to sight.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

(Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

Though we were saved as individuals, we were saved to be part of a body. Though we all have our individual stories, together we share the same story of redemption. Though different in countless ways, we extol the same God who is unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and forever. We’re unique yet we are called to unity. And that unity is expressed through the common song we sing, the song of the redeemed. And that song is best sung when we’re together.

Been awhile since we’ve been together. Miss singing with the saints. Miss making a joyful noise unto the Lord with my brothers and sisters. Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone?

Content to care for my community through quarantine, but so looking forward to the pandemic subsiding and the people of God again assembling. And then, hear us praise the LORD! Listen to us give thanks to our God! And we will again worship in the company of the upright.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Different Gospels and Deserting Christians

Blown away. That’s what was Paul was. Astonished (ESV). Amazed (CSB). Couldn’t believe it (MSG). Shocked (NLT).

But also kind of ticked. No, not just kind of, but really ticked! Reading to call down curses on people. Declaring they should be anathema. Doomed to destruction. Eternally condemned.

So what’s got into Paul? What triggers such shock and awe?

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

(Galatians 1:6-9 ESV)

Seems if there’s anything that could get Paul going it was different gospels and deserting Christians.

I know enough about what’s coming in this letter to know that these believers were falling prey to “good news” that said, “You got Jesus? Good. But you need something more!” That tried to convince them, “You’ve believed in the finished work of the cross? Fine place to start. But you’ll need to do some work yourself to be truly saved.” It wasn’t good news at all.

It was a different gospel. A distorted gospel. A contrary gospel. In fact, no gospel at all. For it was a gospel that when followed led people to desert Jesus. To abandon the Savior. To be disloyal to the Master. Good news that made for bad disciples.

Really that big a deal? If I’m accurately picking up what Paul is laying down in these opening verses, apparently.

And as I hover over Paul’s righteous indignation, as I consider his willingness to call brothers and sisters “deserters”, and purveyors of a modified gospel “accursed”, I’m wondering just how easy is it to be led down a distorted gospel path? How close might I come, at any given point, to being drawn to a different gospel and being in danger of becoming a deserting Christian?

I guess the warning signs are when I have an “I’ll need to take it from here, Jesus” sort of attitude. Falling into patterns that would indicate that what was begun in the Spirit really needs to be perfected in the flesh (Gal. 3:3). Or finding myself in a place where I feel like I need Jesus along with something else before I really believe that I’m a beloved child of God. Where my identity and sufficiency are found in “Jesus+” rather than in Christ alone.

Paul doesn’t leave much wiggle room here. To turn to a different gospel — anything that in anyway misdirects our hope for a full salvation in anything else but the Person and finished work of God’s Son — is to be a deserter of Jesus.

Father, keep me from even entertaining such a different gospels.

By your grace. For Your glory.

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. . . .

And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

— Keith Getty / Stuart Townend © Capitol Christian Music Group

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